Son's 15Y old GF Cutting, Family Trauma Impact on Son

Ok, I wasn't ready for this. 

I have a boy who is happy, mellow, mature, responsible and empathetic, which, as a full-on single parent has been a blessing.  He is a caretaker.   This is his first GF, they are both 15.  She is smart, articulate and loves him.  I don't know her well, she is not open around me.  Her family has had significant trauma.  The GF's sister, who was a couple of years older, killed herself. The parents are engaged in a bitter divorce.  The mother doesn't appear to be employed and has a new boyfriend.  Son's GF is cutting herself.  Son is very defensive regarding my observation of her cuts.  He is fully sucked in and has stress around GF's mental health.   These issues are way too big for him and he is weighed down by them.  He has confided regarding GF's current mental state around her mother's new BF and wants to help even asking me to see if there are mental health resources for her, since she is on a "waitlist" for therapy and her mother is "reducing her anti-depressants."  Oy.  This is way beyond what he can handle.  He would like me to help him find mental health resources for her.   I am aware of Seneca and also have reached out to Kaiser re: my son's mental health but have not gotten a lot of support there.    Not quite how I expected his first romance to go. So appreciative of any advice. 

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Oh my goodness, this makes me so sad! I haven't had to deal with something like this, but I totally feel your pain. Honestly, if it were me, I would really try to limit the amount of time he is spending with her. I know this sounds awful, but it really can't get better any time soon, can it?

Since he is mature and empathetic, hopefully you can find a time (maybe a short get away/vacation just the two of you) to give him some mental space from her and really be able to talk to him about what constitutes a healthy relationship, and that, at 15, he's taking on way too much for his own good.

Ugh....again so sorry, and I wish I had better advice for where she can turn - if her family is able to pay then I don't think she can take advantage of free services offered by some non-profits. School counselors?? Does she have any trusted adults in her life?

I hope it gets better for all involved!

As a parent of a girl who has self harmed I really understand your concern, and it’s way more common than you think. Many hide it well. In any case it’s stressful to know your child is dealing with this. The best things to do are 

1. don’t judge GF or add to her shame. the GF is already feeling badly about this. But it creates release and endorphins. If the cuts are superficial I would ignore them as much as possible. If they require care, matter of factly help her clean them up and cover them. As for support, there are groups and individual therapy. Unfortunately the need is so high it’s very hard to get in to see someone as a new client. I would check the Wright Center, and find out what her insurance is to search for therapists (unfortunately most are out of network). Support your son in supporting her. If you try to separate them or bad mouth her or even continuously express concern it will drive him away. Let him know you are there and available. Get him support from a professional if he needs/wants it to help him manage his burden. Take care Momma. It’s a hard one. 

Just tacking on to that last reply.  I’m a therapist who works with teens. (This is not an advertisement for my services, but perhaps this information will be useful). There’s a misconception that if parent have money, the teen can’t find or use low cost mental healthcare. School counselors are always free and have lists of organizations that help teens at low cost as well. In California, teens from the age of 12 and up are not required to seek consent from their parents to receive therapy. There are also low cost telehealth programs. Sentio is a low cost mental healthcare and telehealth resource. Cost is as low as $30.
I also recommend your son seek therapy as well. If your family has great insurance, I suggest seeking private practice help near you. Many therapists, like myself, see clients in person which can be particularly helpful for teens. 
mall the best of luck

Tacking on: I see you have Kaiser. Most folks don’t find their mental healthcare services to be adequate. Private practices will help you more. It can be expensive, but worthy the investment. I recommend finding a therapist who is also comfortable working with families. They can help you with your concerns and communication as well. 

This sounds extremely difficult to navigate. You may know this already, but cutting, while frightening to observe, is not dangerous in and of itself. It has no link to suicidality, which is a blessing. It is, however, a coping method when a child has no other resources at hand. I feel a lot of compassion for all 3 of you! 
I would want to ask your son:

1) is his GF suicidal (does she say she’d rather be dead, has she ever made a plan, are there guns or drugs in the home, has she ever tried to kill herself before?)

2) is she also using substances to self-sooth?

3) is her mother’s BF touching her inappropriately or saying inappropriate things to her?

I believe that a yes to any of these should immediately result in a grown-up to grown-up discussion. You are not a mandated reporter, but any of the above puts the GF at serious risk and your son is correct to ask you for help. 
You don’t mention if your son feels trapped (he wants out but doesn’t want to hurt her) or if he wants to stay in relationship with the GF.  I think your next steps after determining GF’s safety depend on what he wants…

I’m so sorry you have to find a way through this that maintains GF’s safety, your son’s emotional health and your connection with him. 


You mentioned Kaiser for your son, so not sure what the insurance situation is for the GF. But reach out to ACCESS (800-491-9099) in Alameda County. If she qualifies, they can connect her to a provider or provide resources. Agree that Kaiser is not the best when it comes to mental health coverage. 

Sorry you are going thru this. All the best.